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Atlas Genius never saw success coming

Published October 30, 2013 9:21 am

Music • Australian indie rockers riding a wave of U.S. success.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Atlas Genius recorded their now-hit single "Trojans," they had no idea what the future held for them: hundreds of thousands of records sold, nearly a half-dozen U.S. tours and spots on all the big late-night shows. They were just two brothers and their friends making music and posting it online. Now they're signed to Warner and they've spent so little time in their native Australia that it doesn't even seem like home anymore. Lead singer and guitarist Keith Jeffery talked with The Tribune about their striking success and what's next for the breakout artists. Atlas Genius will play Salt Lake City's In The Venue on Wednesday, Oct. 30.

You guys are an Australian band. What have you noticed in your time here that distinguishes the music scene in Australia vs. the United States?

Just the sheer number of bands you've got in America. As far as the countries go, we've got like 25 million people, you've got 330 million, or something like that, roughly. It feels like there's a lot of great bands in America. I think Australia's got their fair share as well, but just the sheer size of the music scene over here is, I think, pretty vibrant. I feel like there's different kinds of music. Obviously, I'm biased. But there's a whole lot of different genres thriving, whereas if you look back at ... If you're not a post-grunge guitar band, you have no chance of doing anything. Obviously there's hip-hop and R&B as well, but as far as rock goes. I feel like American crowds are very enthusiastic, which I like. It's fun to play to a rowdy American crowd. I definitely think American crowds are rowdier.

You released "Trojans" before you actually got signed to a label, right?

We released "Trojans" independently. It was just a case of us putting the song on the Internet and seeing what it would do. We didn't market it, we didn't tell anybody about it. We just put it up on a couple sites like iTunes and Spotify and SoundCloud, that sort of thing. Luckily it did get talked about. But yeah, that's what we did. It was all independent.

Did you guys record that track yourselves, and did you record the entire album yourselves?

The entire album we recorded in our studio. We mixed it. Everything was done in house, other than a couple of the songs on the album we got mixed because we ran out of time, so we had someone else do it. But other than that, everything was done in house.

Is that something you would do again?

We've always been very nerdy with studio stuff. That's one of our passions. I'm totally obsessed with good microphones and preamps and that kind of stuff. I'd be really surprised if we relinquish those roles to anyone else. Because we've been doing it for a while and we've had success doing it, I don't think we're going to change that anytime soon.

Speaking of "Trojans," and some of that older material, you wrote some songs a pretty long time ago. Is it getting burdensome to play that material, are you wishing you could move on and record some new stuff, or are you still amped up on the success of it?

We're working on new stuff at the moment, but the thing that keeps songs fresh is that you're playing them to different crowds. We're not playing to the same group of people every night. … Every night if you just focus on "what is the emotional content behind this song," and what is your attitude, if you're able to tap into that then I don't think you really get sick of playing songs.

How would you guys define yourself genre-wise? I hear a lot of influences in your music, but where do you put yourself on that spectrum?

Well, I don't. That's a job for critics and reviewers to do. Everyone's always trying to pigeonhole. But we don't think of ourselves as being a certain type of band because I really don't want to pigeonhole ourselves. When we're writing — like for the next album — I don't want to think, "Well, we're this kind of band, so certain things are off limits." All music is valid. I really don't like when bands get stuck in a rut and put out the same album 10 times. Obviously you run the risk of alienating your earlier fans if you change too radically. For those purposes I don't classify ourselves in any particular genre. But everyone else seems to think we're indie rock or indie pop, which is fine. But that's a pretty broad term as well, I don't even know what that means anymore. It seems like everything that's not hip-hop or R&B is indie rock.

The album comes across as very personal and has an intimacy to it. Where do you get your inspiration for those kinds of songs and where does that intimacy come from?

Exactly like you said, it all is very personal, at the risk of exposing too much of yourself. For me, that's where I find where my best writing comes from. Tapping into those personal experiences that you don't necessarily want the world to know about, but I think to make good art you've really got to put yourself out there. … It's always very personal, generally about something that I'm struggling with.

You've been touring for about a month now?

This tour, yeah. We've been in the States for the better part of the 14 months. We've had a few breaks but I think we've done five American tours, maybe six in the last year. The last time we were home we did a two-week Australian tour in the middle of the year, but other than that we've hardly been home this year.

Does that make you feel distant from your hometown or where you got your inspiration for this record? Is it feeling more comfortable?

Australia does feel like a foreign country. We've spent more time in America than Australia or anywhere else. I think I've actually spent more time in Europe than I have in Australia in the last year. As far as inspiration goes it wasn't so much — a couple of the songs are place-specific, "Backseat" and "Symptoms." Other than that, it could have happened anywhere, I guess. At Christmas time we're heading back there for a few months and we're going to start working on a new album there. We'll see how it goes.

What have been some of the most interesting experiences that you've had in the last couple years since this has really taken off?

The things that really come to mind are things like playing nightly TV shows that you grew up watching like Letterman or Fallon, those kinds of things. Those are kind of highlights. Playing festivals like Lollapalooza as well.

Has your success brought any kinds of problems or difficulties for you?

Everything has challenges. No matter what you do there's always a challenge. I think it's a very positive year that we've had. There were a few months where it was a bit of a challenge to the whole life on the road. Every day you're in a different city. You get into a routine and now it's sort of comfortable. I actually find that if I'm home for more than a week I feel a bit strange. I'm so used to being in different cities. It's kind of the opposite — now being home doesn't feel like home. —

Atlas Genius with guests Family of the Year

When • Wednesday, Oct. 30

Where • In The Venue, 219 S. 600 West, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $16 advance, $18 day of, at Smith's Tix